It’s been sixty-five years since the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision signalled the beginning of a profound shift in public education across the country. The U.S. Supreme Court in refuting the doctrine of “separate but equal” was not acting alone, but was reflecting a long-held understanding held by Black communities throughout the segregated South — communities organizing and mobilizing together, shaking the chains of Jim Crow and the firmament of white supremacy that held them in place.
Raymond C. Pierce, the President and CEO of the Southern Education Foundation, reminds us of the battle on the ground that took place after the decision and continues to this day: "segregationists launched tactics to preserve White Supremacist policies and oppose the Rule of Law expressed by the Supreme Court. One such tactic quickly came in the form of school vouchers crafted to allow White parents to receive public school funds to send their children to private schools. The majority of these private schools were created in the aftermath of Brown as a means of avoiding integration."
Just last year, the Journey for Justice Alliance released "Failing Brown v. Board," a report that illuminates just how inequitable public education remains today. Through examining course offerings at high schools in 12 cities, the report details how black and brown students are denied “access to inspiration” in comparison with their white, more affluent peers at schools often separated by a few miles: de facto segregation.
It would be easy to simply wait with baited breath at the next round of Supreme Court decisions to try and ascertain Brown's fate, but what's truly determined the future of public education has always been found in the streets, in the schools, and in our communities. The task before us as advocates and funders is to help build the kind of popular, grassroots power that will spur and enforce progressive policymaking while fighting back against those politicians who seek to turn back the clock. It's up to us to fulfill the promise of Brown, and as always, those most impacted must lead the struggle.